‘Broken’ film and panel discussions shed light on criminology

Rachel Barnes January 31, 2013 0

Elizabethtown College celebrated MLK Week honoring the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As a part of a weeklong series, the College hosted a screening of the documentary “Broken on All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration & New Visions for Criminal Justice in the US” on Wednesday, Jan. 22 in Gibble Auditorium.
The film’s primary goal was to educate the public about the issue of mass incarceration in the Philadelphia County jail system. In the film, people from both sides of the law discuss the issue at length as well as how it affects criminal justice in our country. However the cause of this issue comes from something that has plagued our country since its inception: stereotyping.
According to the 2008 report from the Pew Center on the States, one in 100 Americans is currently in prison. Of these, one in 15 are African American, one in 36 are Hispanic, and one in 106 are Caucasian.
The number of people in prison began to go off the charts thirty years ago with the War on Drugs during the Reagan Administration. It was supposed to address the social ills in our society, including mental illness and drug abuse. However, Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” associate professor of law at Mortiz College of Law, and senior fellow at Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity; said that it did something completely different.
Alexander explained, “[Politicians] were searching for a rhetoric that would appeal to poor and working class white voters, particularly in the South, who were threatened by and resentful of many of the gains of African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement. Posters and political strategists found that by using these racial codes like getting tough on crime, they could appeal to those voters.”
After watching the documentary, a panel, moderated by Dr. Rita Shah, associate professor of sociology, was introduced to the audience filled with students and faculty members of the College community. The panel included J. Jondhi Harrell, Thomas Dichter, Joshua Glenn and Anthony Dickerson, who are a part of Decarcerate PA, a campaign that is trying to stop the mass incarceration occurring in the state of Pennsylvania, and they all have personal experiences with this particular issue.
“We have three demands for Decarcerate PA,” said Dichter, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He continued, “the organization wants to see the end of prison construction. The state is still building prisons even though they know the problem of overcrowding. With the decarceration of prisons, populations of prisons will surely go down. The final goal for Decarcerate PA is that we want to work for reinvestment into community institutions such as: housing, food, education and social services.”
Shah asked the panel whether the film was accurate or not. They all agreed that it was a very good film, but they explained that in certain topics, the film could have delved deeper. Dickerson, a former prisoner of ten years who now works for The Center for Returning Citizens, brought up an interesting point.
In his opinion, Dickerson said, “I would have liked the film to show how prisons actually get built … taxpayers pay for it … it is a business.”
For most people, what Dickerson said is very accurate since it seems that most of our dollars go to the construction of prisons instead of the education of the youth of America. This is something that affects all of us since we are currently in the educational system, despite our status as students in a private school.
Agreeing with Dickerson’s statement, Harrell, a reformed bank robber and prisoner of twenty-five years who now works for The Center for Returning Citizens and also has received his Masters Degree, said, “I would have liked to see concrete vision of what is going on after a person is released from prison. Some things could be emphasized such as more jobs. I had eighteen years of experience, but the only job I could get at the time was cleaning remotes for four months.”
Then the audience was able to ask the panel questions about the issue of mass incarceration. One person asked how the cops in the Philadelphia area act. All the panelists agreed that the law enforcement in Philadelphia needs much improvement. “[They] need to stop widespread thinking that prisons are the solution to our problems,” Dichter said. “But they haven’t solved anything.”
After that, Glenn, a former prisoner who was incarcerated at the age of sixteen and was charged as an adult, added, “They don’t know the [city of Philadelphia]. It is safe. People are just going through hard times.” He continued, saying that “poverty is the number one reason for crime. When they can’t provide, they do crime.”
Throughout the panel discussion, Shah told the audience some facts about incarceration. One was truly appalling: when prisoners talk to one of their loved ones on the phone, it can cost $3.15 for 15 minutes and in some states it can cost up to thirty dollars for that same amount of time. One of the things that Decarcerate PA has done to combat incarceration is to convince the commission to look into the cost of phone rates in prisons and to possibly acquire a standard rate. All four men are very proud of what they have been able to do, but their ultimate goal is a lot bigger than that.
“[Most people] look at us like we are nuts when we tell them that our long-term goal is to eliminate prisons altogether,” Harrell said. “However, we have to dream the impossible or it will never happen.”
For more information on the film or Decarcerate PA, you can click the “Like” buttons for Decarcerate PA and “Broken on All Sides” pages on Facebook.

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